Overpopulation, limited availability of water resources are Egypt’s main water challenges: Irrigation minister – Politics – Egypt


“The Egyptian water sector faces many challenges, foremost of which are overpopulation and the limited available water resources,” Egypt’s Irrigation and Water Resources Minister Mohamed Abdel-Ati said during a meeting with the Director-General of the Islamic Organisation for Food Security (IOFS) Yerlan Baidaulet in Cairo on Sunday.

According to a statement released by the irrigation ministry on Sunday, while reviewing the water challenges facing the 102-million-strong country during the meeting, Abdel-Ati said that “Egypt is one of the driest countries in the world and suffers from water scarcity.”

For his part, head of the IOFS Baidaulet expressed his desire to transfer the distinguished Egyptian expertise in the field of water resources to other Islamic countries.

The IOFS is a specialised institution of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that is dedicated to promoting agricultural and rural development as well as ensuring sustainable food security in member states. It is headquartered in Kazakhstan and comprised of 36 countries out of 57 OIC states.

The two parties agreed on the necessity of benefiting from Egyptian expertise in the field of water resource management and rationalisation and the use of technology in water management.

This would in turn maximise the utilisation of the water unit, which contributes to increasing agricultural production, the irrigation ministry’s statement noted.

At the end of their meeting, Abdel-Ati invited Baidaulet to attend the fourth edition of Cairo Water Week (CWW), which will be held from 24 to 28 October under the auspices of Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi under the theme of ‘Water, Population, and Global Change: Challenges and Opportunities’.

CWW is considered one of the biggest water-related events at the national, regional, and international levels. The annual event is organised by the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources in collaboration with national, regional, and international partners.

Meeting water challenges

According to the statement, Abdel-Ati said that whereas Egypt’s water resources are about 60 billion cubic metres (bcm) annually — most of which comes from the waters of the Nile River in addition to very limited amounts of rainwater estimated at nearly 1 bcm — its needs to stand at around 114 bcm yearly.

Such a gap is compensated by the reuse of agricultural wastewater and surface groundwater in the valley and delta, in addition to importing food products from abroad that are equivalent to 34 bcm of water annually, the Egyptian minister noted.

Virtual water — which is the embedded water required to produce commodities — is measured as a percentage of the already existing water resources and is increasingly recommended as a good policy for water-scarce areas.

In previous statements, Abdel-Ati has stated that “the gap is overcome by importing 54 percent of Egypt’s virtual water and reusing 42 percent of its renewable water.”

The country’s annual share of Nile River water, which the country relies on primarily for its water resources, is 560 m3 per person, cabinet figures indicate, placing the country well below the international threshold for water scarcity.

Abdel-Ati also tackled the rapid climate changes that the world in general and Egypt in particular have been witnessing, referring to their impending threat to sustainable development and the human right to access water as a result of such changes.

“Egypt is one of the most affected countries worldwide by climate changes, as a result of rising sea levels and the unexpected impact of climate changes on the Nile River’s headwaters,” the minister said, noting that they affect many economic, social, and environmental aspects in addition to the water resources, agriculture, food security, energy, and health fields.

Abdel-Ati also highlighted the adverse effect of climate change on Egypt’s fertile Nile Delta, as the rise in sea levels makes it one of the world’s prime candidates in danger of drowning or decreasing fertility due to the interference of saline water.

This affects the quality of groundwater and could lead to the displacement of millions of Egyptians residing in the north of the delta.

These challenges, he stressed, require strenuous efforts to confront them, adding that Egypt has prepared a strategy for water resources until 2050 at a cost of up to $50 billion that may reach $100 billion, in addition to developing a four-pronged National Water Resources Plan running through 2037. 

The plan is based on rationalising water use, improving water quality, providing additional water resources, and creating a climate suitable for optimal water management, Abdel-Ati said.

During the past five years, according to Abdel-Ati, many measures have been taken to increase the readiness to deal with water challenges and to confront any emergency faced by the water system through implementing various mega projects.

These projects include wastewater treatment, desalination of seawater, switching from surface to modern irrigation systems in agriculture, and also the protection projects from the dangers of torrential rains, as well as the coastal protection projects.

Egypt is currently building 14 seawater desalination plants that are expected to be completed by June 2022, with a total capacity of 476,000 m3 of water per day, at a cost of EGP 9.71 billion. When completed, the plants will bring Egypt’s tally of desalination stations to 90 with a total capacity of 1,307,69 million m3 per day due to the operation of 76 existing seawater desalination plants, with a total capacity of 831,690 m3 per day, according to a previous statement by the irrigation ministry.

Meanwhile,according to the Ministry of Housing, Utilities, and Urban Communities, Egypt is also constructing 151 dual and triple sewage treatment plants across the country, with a total capacity of five million m3 of water per day, at a cost of EGP 31.59 billion.

The irrigation ministry has been encouraging farmers to adopt modern irrigation techniques instead of surface irrigation to reduce water consumption. More than 237,000 feddans are currently being irrigated with modern techniques.

These projects come in parallel to the ongoing national project for rehabilitation and lining of canals, which is one of the largest projects in the world in this field that aims to improve the process of water management and distribution,

The project — which is meant to improve the management and distribution of water as well as reducing water wastage — is being implemented by the irrigation ministry through 7,000 kilometres, and its first phase is set for completion in 2022 at the cost of EGP 18 billion.

Out of the 7,000 kilometres of canals, the ministry has successfully rehabilitated more than 2,000 kilometres of canals so far in 20 governorates.

Abdel-Ati also stressed the necessity of achieving the maximum degree of cooperation and coordination between countries to realise peoples’ goals in achieving sustainable development and access to the optimal management of water resources through joint cooperation and the exchange of experiences.

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